Categories
Mixed Media

Mixed media, Sunday 9 August 2020

My last Mixed Media post was about five months ago; my last post at all here was on 28th March. I wrote the latter while procrastinating in the middle of the “48-hour online timed assessment” (don’t call it an “exam”) at the end of the Learning & Development module for the Org Psych course I’m following.

The course is a big time commitment. The university suggests that we should expect to spend around 15 hours per week on it during term time. This comes in the form of a weekly lecture, readings, and writing assignments for the online forums. My intention is always to spend use “evenings and weekends” for this, but reality is that I’m often too tired at the end of a full work day to hit the books after dinner. I find myself doing most of the work in the weekends, submitting my forum posts long after everyone else has chewed over the subject of the week, trying hard to contribute something new or useful. In terms 2 and 3 I experienced a pattern of feeling like I was constantly falling behind, and a huge amount of stress and anxiety before the assessment.

Is this fun? I’m not taking this course because I have to. I’m doing it because I’m interested in the subject, because I thought a deeper understanding of organizational psychology would help me be a better manager, and because it seemed like a bit of a challenge. There are many other things I could be doing with my time, such as, oh, not putting myself under that kind of pressure 30 weeks out of the year. I’m learning a lot, and I’m gaining a sense of achievement from doing this, but is it worth the cost?

The exam online timed assessment (there’s a rant in there, but I’ll save it for another time) for term 3 was about a month ago, so I’m in the middle of the summer break now until the start of October. It’s very relaxing! I can wake up at the weekend and spend a day doing absolutely nothing without a feeling of guilt that I should be reading and studying. (I still spend time doing nothing, or at least nothing “productive” during term time; it just leads to me feeling bad.) I tried to go easy on bingeing TV shows during term, and I deliberately held back on buying The Last of Us Part II until the assessment was over. If I wasn’t spending time studying, is that all I would do, though, read books, watch TV, play video games? (I could say that I’d spend the time getting back to practicing the bass, but let’s keep it real.) Would simply enjoying myself be a bad thing? Don’t answer that, I already know.

So I’m spending some time thinking about whether to continue the course after the summer. I don’t have to decide straight away, and because I’ve got 5 years in total to complete it, perhaps I just space out the modules a bit more, and do 2 per academic year instead of 3. Maybe future modules will be different?

Last term was a bit of a pressure cooker: the Selection & Assessment module covers subjects of fairness and biases in hiring practices, the role of “intelligence” (aka “general mental ability”), and the differences in average test scores between racial groups. In the light of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US and elsewhere, I found myself getting genuinely angry at some of the research literature I encountered that didn’t address scientific racism, but instead took a hands-off “we’re just reporting the numbers, what you do with them is up to you” attitude. Many researchers do try hard to come up with methodological explanations for the means differences: the apparent numbers just can’t be right, so what’s causing them? But the journals of I/O psychology are not exactly a hotbed of social justice activism. This is frustrating because outside the field, there’s a much simpler answer: the prolonged effects of structural racism!

Also COVID-19 and lockdowns. That’s not making me feel happy and comfortable, either.

Hmm, I started this blog post with the intention of writing about media.

Films

Euskal kultura - News
  • 💩 Need for Speed: Too much nonsensical plot, not enough racing. Fast & furious, this isn’t. I watched it because I was looking for something mindless, and that’s what I got.
  • ⭐️ El Hoyo: Tight and tense sci-fi thriller about a prison? Rehab centre? Social experiment gone wrong?
  • Bloodshot: I’d been looking forward to seeing this in the cinema, but then lockdown hit. Fortunately, the studio released the film for download. It’s daft, but neat. Interesting for a film to offer a twist beginning rather than a twist ending. Don’t see it spawning a major franchise.
  • Rampage: Daft, but entertaining.
  • ⭐️ Booksmart: Yes, it’s good, with good gags, strong characters, and a nice pay-off; but I’d hoped for it to be a little less cringe-y.
  • ⭐️ Onward: Good Pixar, not great Pixar.
  • Code 8: I remember seeing the short film a few years ago; this is the full-length thing, a low-budget, low-key crime thriller in a world where some people have powers, but society has grown to shun and marginalize them. Engaging.
  • ⭐️ Jumanji – The Next Level: More fun than it has any right to be. It’s simple and silly, but the cast sell it really well.
  • 💩 Central Intelligence: I’d been going to say something about how I enjoy pretty much anything with Dwayne Johnson in it, but I’m putting that thought back on ice.
  • ⭐️ Colossal: The premise is weird, and for a while it looks like the characters will follow a certain kind of redemption arc, but it goes somewhere darker instead.
  • The Lovebirds: Throwaway romantic comedy. There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes.
  • Brightburn: What if Superman origin story, but he turns out as a brutal psychopath instead? Jump scares and some slasher-ish horror, but it’s not much deeper than that.
  • Mute: Very pretty Blade Runner vibe to the production design, with a very earnest tragic romance driving the plot, but lacking in focus. I didn’t need to see so much of both sides of the curtain.
  • 💩 Bad Boys For Life: I got about five minutes into this and couldn’t watch any more. After the Black Lives Matter protests and the heightened awareness of police brutality in the US, the opening scenes felt laid bare as a classic building block of pro-police propaganda that I hadn’t critically examined before. See also Jordan Calhoun’s article “Saying Goodbye to Law & Order” in the Atlantic.
  • ⭐️ The Old Guard: Satisfying action thriller with a bunch of immortals trying to come to terms with who they’re fighting for, and why.

Books

  • ⭐️ Mick Herron – Joe Country:I’m still enjoying these Slough House spy stories.
  • ⭐️ Curtis C Chen – Kangaroo Too: Sequel to Waypoint Kangaroo. I don’t think he has written any more in the series, which is a terrible shame because I love the wise-cracking space opera spy with superpowers vibe here.
  • ⭐️ William Gibson – The Peripheral: I got a few chapters into this a couple of years ago and gave up because I couldn’t get a handle on it. This is a very dense book. The writing style is sparse, and there’s no surplus exposition. You have to build your picture of the world from the inside out. At times it feels like Gibson started with a 1200-page draft and then deleted every other word to bring it down to size. But I found it enormously rewarding once I got properly stuck into it, especially because the current pandemic makes it feel like we’re living out part of the Jackpot, a decades-long slow-motion global catastrophe.
  • ⭐️ William Gibson – Agency: I felt an ache when Gibson described the circumstances in the present-day “stub” world, where most of the action in Agency takes place: Trump didn’t win, and no Brexit. The world is in peril for different reasons, though, so still no party. The writing feels lighter and faster-paced, but maybe that’s because I’d already bootstrapped my understanding of the world from The Peripheral. The ending also felt a little too tidy and hopeful. You’d think I’d enjoy a bit of hopefulness? Given the backdrop of the Jackpot in the book, and the current situation of our world, it rang a bit hollow.
  • Warren Ellis & Jason Howard – Trees vol 3: So there’s the Warren Ellis thing. This struck me because it came hot on the heels of the allegations and accusations around Max Temkin. I had enjoyed the weekly podcast Do By Friday with Temkin, Merlin Mann, and Alex Cox for a couple of years, and had just recently backed his Magic Puzzles kickstarter. Picking up the first two volumes of Transmetropolitan, along with Matt Fraction, David Aja, & Javier Pulido’s Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon at Dr. Comics & Mr Games in Oakland in the summer of 2013 feels like the start of my ongoing love of modern comics. I had consistently sought out Ellis’s other comics. I subscribed to his newsletter, and through it learned about many other artists and people of interest. I’m fully aware that any fondness I had for Ellis and Temkin was parasocial. But the fondness was there, and when it gets betrayed there are feelings. June 2020 was a pretty fucking intense month for feelings. Anyway – ignoring the author, Trees vol 3 is a minor addition to that canon: a claustrophobic murder mystery/ghost story that doesn’t contribute to the global events the first volumes showed. I’d be surprised if we ever see any more.
  • 💩 Stuart MacBride – All That’s Dead: Filler material in the Logan McRae series. Gratuitously gruesome. No character evolution. Skip it.
  • Max Brooks – Devolution: Remote Washington residential community for clueless rich people gets attacked by Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) when Mt Rainier erupts and cuts them off from the rest of the world. Much more easily filmable than World War Z, but much less interesting as a result.

Episodic Video (“TV”)

  • ⭐️ The Witcher season 1: Highly entertaining fantasy. Neither Tolkienesque nor GoT-ish grimdark. Looking forward to more of this.
  • ⭐️ Tiger King: So much has been written about this already. It’s compelling viewing, each episode filled with more WTF than the next. One of the wildest things was how the film-makers got footage of the whole story as events unfolded over several years. The result is far more reality show than an investigative documentary.
  • ⭐️ Better Call Saul season 5: Beautiful, meticulously constructed, and continues to generate empathy for characters, good and bad, whose destiny is already written. Except for Kim: she’s never mentioned at all in Breaking Bad, yet she’s grown to be one of the biggest elements of the show, and is thus the biggest mystery. I’m looking forward to and dreading the final season.
  • ⭐️ Agents of SHIELD season 6: Took a very different direction than the out-in-space season 5. Still great. Annoying that season 7 isn’t up on Disney+.
  • Halt and Catch Fire season 1: It’s a wonderful production, full of intricate historical verisimilitude. You can watch it as a computer expert and not strain your eyes from rolling them. At the same time, the characters are horrible people, I don’t like them, and if I keep watching the following seasons sooner or later one of them is going to kill someone, possibly accidentally, but definitely with a lot of secrecy, guilt and remorse, and I’ll like them even less. I don’t think I’m up for that.
  • Community seasons 3, 4, 5: Funny, yes, but there’s a certain cruelty that always seems very close to the surface, and shows its face often enough for it to make me uncomfortable.
  • Runaways season 2: Entertaining enough. Annoying that season 3 isn’t up on Disney+.
  • ⭐️ Dead to Me seasons 1 & 2: Brilliant dark comedy drama.
  • ⭐️ ⭐️ Chernobyl: 😳 Utterly astonishing. As a teen in the Netherlands at the time of the events of 1986, I remember only the general shape of news events, and a heightened sense of alarm about radiation. In the years since, the disaster has been sanded down by history, and rendered abstract by factual articles and encyclopedia entries. This 5-episode mini-series brings out the full horror or the catastrophe, and shows how close we came to it being unimaginably worse. The image of a shaft of blue light, caused by Cherenkov radiation, spearing up up into the sky from the exposed core is something that will stay with me.
  • 💩 Space Force season 1: I couldn’t watch more than the first two episodes. First of all it’s just not very funny. Secondly, I have no appetite for gentle satire of government and administrative incompetence when genuine malfeasance is rampant and needs to be attacked, not made light of.
  • ⭐️ Dark seasons 2 & 3: I appreciate a show that actually brings things to an end. And for a show all about free will versus determinism, and the ambiguity of “good” and “bad” within the context of a time loop (the characters spend much of their time apologizing to younger versions of themselves or their family members about horrible things that are about to happen, or staring at things in regret), the ending was surprisingly tidy. It made me wonder a lot about how the writers had planned from the start, and how much they tweaked on the fly between seasons. Dark is a deliberately slow burn, but even at that careful pace, it’s one of the densest, twistiest time travel stories I’ve ever seen.

Games

I finished Desert Golfing. I’d seen a video of someone finishing the game at around 24,000 holes, but that was from some time ago. Originally the game was “unending”, but had some impossible holes in it. In an update a couple of years ago the creator put a 10,000 limit in place for new games, or 10,000 more than wherever you were at the time of the update – hence why some people have so many holes.

I’ve picked up Golf on Mars, the follow-up, but the physics are a bit different, and hard to get used to after so much of the original. It also has 25,770,000,000 holes, which is effectively infinite. This somehow makes it feel less challenging and more pointless? Not that there was much point in finishing Desert Golfing, but it always felt like there was an end I was striving for – some kind of achievement. Without such a goal, and no high-score to beat, I’ve quickly lost interest.

Post Mortem Review - The Last of Us Part II - Modern Gamer

I’ve also finished The Last of Us Part II. Fiona and I played it together: me on the controls, and Fiona providing snark about how bad I am at killing zombles. After the end credits rolled, the game presented a screen asking us if we wanted to start a New Game + session to level up the characters even further and pick up all the collectibles we’d missed. We were both very much NOPE NOT GOING BACK THERE THANK YOU.

It’s an amazing game in many ways: the graphics, environment, and art are stunning; the post-apocalyptic world is richly portrayed; the character models are shockingly emotive; the voice acting is unparalleled; the gameplay is fluid, with well-balanced difficulty that can nonetheless be adjusted on-the-fly so that you don’t get stuck and get bored.

But it’s also continuously, intimately violent far beyond my comfort level. The absence of choice in all of the actually meaningful encounters makes a mockery of your ability to sneak past enemies instead of shooting or stabbing them along the way. This is very much not an open-world game, or a role-playing game where you can steer your character’s personality. It forces you to become attached to a sympathetic character, and then forces you to watch her (to be her) as she then consistently makes the worst possible choices. It’s maddening, bordering on sickening. Maddy Myers describes it very well in her review at Polygon. Art doesn’t have a responsibility to make us feel happy or comfortable. I’m glad that I’m done with the game; I’m not sure if I’m glad I played it.

Categories
Mixed Media

Mixed media, Saturday 1 February 2020

Fuck Brexit!

The words Europe and Scotland linked by a heart, projected onto the side of the European Commission HQ
Europe ❤️ Scotland

Town in Netherlands replaces Union Jack with Saltire in EU flag line-up

I haven’t quite figured out how to make a European Flag tattoo design that works for me yet.

Fuck Brexit!

Knives Out movie poster

Films:

  • El Camino (Breaking Bad movie) A good chaser after having finished watching all of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.
  • ⭐️ Knives Out I’m a fan of Rian Johnson’s, and I’d been looking forward to this for ages. Watched it at the cinema with Abi and Fiona on my birthday, after rushing down a pineapple and jalopeño pizza (yes) at the Domino’s around the corner to catch the movie start time. Excellent film, absolutely loved it.
  • The Irishman Boring. The facial digital de-aging was good, possibly the best we’ve seen to date, but they forgot to de-age the actors’ gaits. In scenes where he’s supposed to be playing a man in his 40s, De Niro still walks and moves like a man in his 70s. Also, did I mention the film’s boring? Because it’s boring.
  • Rise of Skywalker Yes, it’s stupid and full of plot holes, but I liked it. Kinda glad that the cycle is done now, though.
  • ⭐️ Warcraft You know what? Not at all bad. It’s not Moon or Source Code, but it’s not a turkey. It’s not subtle, it’s not groundbreaking, but it’s sincere in putting on an entertaining and exciting big-budget fantasy spectacle that isn’t set in Middle Earth. I enjoyed it.
  • Roman J Israel Esq Knowing nothing about this film other than having watched the trailer clip showing a single scene of dialogue between Denzel Washington and Colin Farrell, this went in a completely different direction than I’d expected. Thoughtful, uncomfortable, pretty good.
  • 💩💩 6 Underground I tried watching this, but I couldn’t. A billionaire faking his own death so he can mete out vigilante justice with no regard for collateral damage is…troublesome at best, the I found the opening car chase scene so abhorrent that I deleted the download from my phone so that I wouldn’t be tempted to try returning to it. (Yes, Bruce Wayne/Batman, yes, Tony Stark/Iron Man. I know.)
  • Frozen 2 Good. Kristoff’s “Lost in the woods” eighties music video parody is hilarious.
  • My name is Dolemite Excellent. Funny and moving story of a comedian trying to make it big, and do it his way.
  • Song of the Sea Beautiful film, gorgeous animation.
  • Jojo Rabbit Brilliant. I found the start uncomfortable, with how much it leaned in to painting the nazis in a normal and humorous light, but it turned into something altogether sharper, more subtle, and more emotional.

TV

  • Rick and Morty season 4 (or at least the first half of it) – still funny.
  • Watchmen Excellent, intense, twisty & turny, although the use of kinetic weapons in the final episode felt inconsistent in its execution.
  • The Good Place season 4 Wow. Hard to keep up the level of comedy and still bring that to a satisfying ending, but they really did it.
  • October Faction season 1 I won’t be surprised if Netflix doesn’t renew this for a second season, and I won’t be super disappointed, either, because they brought this first story arc to a pretty solid conclusion. It’s relatively low budget, relatively low key and downbeat, definitely not the flashiest or best piece of TV out there. But what can I say? I enjoyed the family story, and felt a strong connection with the two parents, struggling to deal with two teens who themselves are trying to figure out their own identity in a new and difficult situation.
Slow Horses by Mick Herron book cover

Books

  • ⭐ The first 5 books of the Jackson Lamb series by Mick Herron: Slow Horses, Dead Lions, Real Tigers, Spook Street, and London Rules. Loved these. I came across them via Warren Ellis. Serious spy stories, with elements of Archer-like inappropriate humour that creep in around the edges. Looking forward to the next one.
  • 😐 Measure What Matters by John Doerr. He never comes out and explicitly says there is a causal link between the use of OKRs and corporate success (maybe his editor balked), but he sure as heck implies it at every opportunity. Now, I like OKRs, but I also like supporting evidence. This book is a selection of the most successful case studies from his personal acquaintance. Pretty! But completely lacking in balance, or in guidance for anything but the happiest of paths.

Music

  • Manic by Halsey is amazing. Varied and richly textured. And I can actuall play the bass part for “Finally // beautiful stranger” because it’s super easy (E-D-C-A) and at a tempo I can still handle. ❤️
  • The track “Alanis’ Interlude” on Manic features…Alanis Morissette, who I haven’t listened to for ages. As in, I hadn’t heard Flavors of Entanglement from 2008 or havoc and bright lights from 2012 at all. But now I have! I prefer the latter.

Update: I’d forgotten that in the time period for this mixed mediastravaganza I also had a subscription to Amazon Prime. This was accidental. I generally avoid Amazon (I disapprove strongly of their labour practices), but when I do use them, I always avoid signing up for their offers of Amazon Prime. But this time they caught me with one of their dark patterns. Something like a “no, I don’t want to not take advantage of opting out of this free offer” checkbox that I misinterpreted.

Anyway, so there I was with an Amazon Prime subscription, and Season 4 of ⭐ The Expanse just having been released as an Amazon exclusive, so I stuck around for that. And season 1 of ⭐ Fleabag. But not season 2, because despite season 2 being “Available on Amazon Prime Video” this apparently doesn’t mean it’s, you know, available on Amazon Prime Video in the way media are available on other video subscription services. Of course not, what was I thinking.

So anyway, that subscription is gone now.

And then there’s Disney+, on which we’ve watched season 1 of The Mandalorian. Mixed opinion. On the one hand Baby Yoda, on the other hand droid slavery and mass murder. So.

And as I was looking back over this media collection, I thought it was looking a bit light for a three month gap since the previous one…and then I remembered that ⭐ Spider-Man on PS4 kinda took over my life for while there. Time well spent.

Mixed Media, Wednesday 9 October 2019

I’ve been sick with my old nemesis, bronchitis, for the last week or so. I went to the doctor the other day to get a salbutamol inhaler, which is helping, but recovery is slow. Feeling my age. Being 32 sucks.

It it looks like I’ve spent a lot of time watching TV and films between now and the last Mixed Media post, chalk it up to a lot of travel time in September (New York, London, Edinburgh), and most of October so far lying in bed with barely enough breath to flick through Netflix for anything better.

Films:

  • Black Mass Dull film about horrible people doing horrible crimes
  • The Panama Papers Fascinating documentary directed by Alex Winters (yes, he of Bill & Ted fame)
  • Hellboy (2019) Entirely forgettable
  • Crazy Rich Asians Fun romantic comedy!
  • The Informant! Quirky true-story comedy drama about deception heaped upon incompetence.
  • 💩The Hummingbird Project Seeing the trailer, I’d thought this was going to be quirky like The Informant!, but based on the world of high-frequency trading infrastructure Michael Lewis described in Flash Boys. It could have been, if they’d remembered to shoot the third act. Instead, the film just cuts off mid-way through some pointless scene in a barn. And the only really sequence of real wit is the one where Anton Zaleski (Alexander Skarsgård) dances down a hotel hallway to the Beastie Boys’ Do It in his dressing gown. Other than that: great cast, wasted.
  • Bad Times At The El Royale Style over substance, with a weird religious redemption message at the end
  • Dora The Explorer Surprisingly good! Okay, it’s not going to win any Oscars, but it was good clean fun, with a lot of knowing winks to the parents and older kids in the audience.
  • Brawl In Cell Block 99 I didn’t buy Vince Vaughn as a mobster in season 2 of True Detective, but he shines here as a weary but hard-as-nails force of nature. The violence in this film is viscerally brutal, and not for the faint-hearted.
  • Dragged Across Concrete Similar in tone to Brawl, S. Craig Zahler seems to have a very distinct feel for his films. Very deliberate. He likes to take his time with each scene, and lets you soak in the inevitability of the horrible situations into which he puts his characters. Gripping, but fatalistic.
  • The Equalizer I remember watching the Equalizer TV show when I was younger. I thought I remembered that the Robert McCall character (then played by Edward Woodward) had a gimmick that he didn’t like to use guns, and so relied on his wits and other weapons. Doing some cursory internet “reasearch” shows that not to be the case, so, eh. In any case, the new Robert McCall played by Denzel Washington doesn’t use guns (in this first film), unless you count nail guns. It’s a solid reluctant hero action thriller.
  • In The Shadow Of The Moon I went into this looking for a serial killer crime thriller, but turns out to be a time travel serial killer crime thriller. I’ll allow it.
  • The Equalizer 2 Not as good as the first. Shouldn’t have killed Melissa Leo’s “control” character!
  • K-12 Long music video promo thing (“emotion picture“?) Good music & choreography, terrible connecting storyline, dialogue, and acting.
  • The Great Wall Also surprisingly good! Amazing visuals and action sequences. The dialogue and themes (collectivism) feels like they came from a different (Chinese) film-making tradition, but I’m down with that.
  • The Losers Have I seen this film before? I’m sure I’ve seen this film before. I didn’t have a sense of full-blown déja vu throughout it, just an overwhelming sense of familiarity. Chris Evans (after Fantastic Four and the underrated Push, but before Captain America) in his pink T-shirt, playing both with and against his tough hero type. Zoe Saldana playing the Zoe Saldana character. The comic book graphics of the title and credit sequences… I’m sure I’ve seen this before. Maybe I’ll see it again in another 10 years and ask myself the same question.
  • Escape plan 2 Sure
  • Escape plan 3 Okay
  • 💩 The Other Guys There’s actually a good comedy in here, but it’s obliterated by the weight of misogynistic and homophobic jokes. Has not aged well since 2010.
  • 💩 Law Abiding Citizen Violent sociopath goes on a killing spree to avenge the death of his family.
  • 💩 Taken 2 Violent sociopath goes on a killing spree to avenge the death of his family.
  • 💩 Taken 3 Violent sociopath goes on a killing spree to avenge the death of his family. Don’t judge me, I was sick.
  • Bastille Day Idris Elba
  • Close Bodyguard thriller with all-female leads. Felt cheap, somehow. Might have just been the acting.
  • Triple Frontier Modern parable about the evil of greed and the dangers of sunk-cost reasoning.

Overall Pedro Pascal Moustache rating: 2 out of 3. (The Great Wall and Triple Frontier, but not The Equalizer 2)

Pedro Pascal and his Moustache

TV:

  • Dark season 1: German mystery series, involving serial killer(s), broken families, and time travel. With some teen characters. Felt a little Stranger-Things-ish at the beginning, but takes its sense of dread in a whole different direction. A bit slow and heavy-handed, and too many characters to keep track of in the various timelines. But good! Do not watch the dubbed version. Use subtitles like a normal human being.
  • True Detective season 3: And boom, it’s back. Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff have a great dynamic together. The pattern of following the same characters through the ages probably doesn’t need a third outing, though. Just imagine season 2 doesn’t exist, and everything’s fine.
  • Mindhunter season 2: Where Season 1 belonged to Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), the emotional centre of season 2 is Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). It’s very good, but some of the plot threads felt out of balance. Wendy Carr’s storyline peters out part-way through the season, and doesn’t feature in the last episodes at all. As does whatsisname Gregg who stays back at the basement. I suppose they wanted to stick close to the real-life events of the Atlanta child murders maybe?
  • Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D season 5: Not their best season, but I liked it just fine.
  • Criminal: United Kingdom: A tight little police procedural drama – the gimmick being that the whole thing is set in a single location: an interrogation in a police station “somewhere”, the observation room next door, and the hallway outside them. Three short stand-alone episodes, each covering a different crime, linked by some lightweight drama between the police characters. A nice set-up, good for quick snacking. They re-used the same set for a Spanish, German, and French version as well – I’ll be watching them soon.

Books:

  • Principles of Applied Research Methods – Jackson, McDowall, Mackenzie-Davey, Whiting (eds). Now I know what “epistemology” means.

Categories
Mixed Media

Mixed media, 11 August 2019

TV

  • ⭐⭐ Bron | Broen (The Bridge): One of the best detective thrillers I’ve seen. The plotting is exquisite: over the course of each season the show follows a ton of characters that don’t seem significant at first, but are later revealed to be part of the puzzle, like keys for a sequence of interconnected locks. The crimes and the perpetrators are extreme and byzantine, but the police investigating them are grounded and vulnerable a way that British and American TV police often aren’t. (They’re also not buff and beautiful. They feel like real humans.) Sofia Helin is brilliant as protagonist Saga Norén. There’s a scene early in season 4 where she’s shown getting dressed in her iconic leather trousers, zip-up sweater and overcoat, and driving off in her classic Porsche 911. It was like watching a superhero do their first “suit up” scene in a Marvel movie. It also made me want to watch more European detective shows.
  • Jessica Jones season 3: Good. Sad we won’t be seeing more.
  • Stranger Things season 3: Hmm. In the episode “Bouncing Back From Rejection” of his WorkLife podcast, Adam Grant interviews M. Night Shyamalan about his successes and failures. Shyamalan talks about how he likes shifting genres during a film, and how he has learned that it’s better to shift from a genre of lower emotional intensity to one of higher intensity. (Like going from a family drama to a supernatural horror in The 6th Sense.) You have to raise the stakes. This season of Stranger Things didn’t do that. We’ve got supernatural comedy/horror all the way through, but it went from dread in the first four episodes to caper in the final four. My expectations weren’t fulfilled.
  • ⭐ 💩True Detective seasons 1 and 2: Season 1: brilliant. Season 2: exactly as bad as season 1 was good. Like Star Wars prequels vs. original trilogy bad. Could the characters be any more stereotyped? Could their dialogue have been any more awkward and implausible? Was George Lucas called in as a script doctor? So much mis-casting, so much faux noir.
  • 💩💩 Another Life season 1: Cool-looking trailer, but the first episode is utter garbage. Hot, sweaty garbage. Angry “give me that hour of my life back, you bastards” garbage. Offspring of Interstellar and Arrival, stabbed in the back, and corpse left in a Dumpster to rot for three weeks in the middle of a post-apocalyptic heatwave garbage.

Books:

  • The Mighty Thor vol 1: Thunder In Her Veins, by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, et al.: Excellent
  • The Mighty Thor vol 2: Lords of Midgard, by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, et al.: Also excellent

Films:

  • MIB International: It’s fine. Not great, but not as bad as some critics made out.
  • Rim of the World: War of The Worlds meets summer camp.
  • See You Yesterday: Starts as a lightweight kids-do-time-travel-for-science-fair, but takes a tragic and impactful turn to explore the impact of gun violence and biased policing.
  • Lego Movie 2: Fun
  • Glass: Brilliant first two acts, but stalls for the climax. Tries to open up an expanded universe; fails.
  • Prospect: Low budget science fiction drama about a girl and her prospector father looking for the one dig that will allow them to pay off their debts. It all goes wrong, and she has to team up with one of the bandits who ambushes them to fight for survival. Terrific script, fantastic drama.
  • Spider-Man Far From Home: Very cool, very fun.
  • Happy Death Day 2 U: Fun sequel! Heavier on the zany, lighter on the slasher thriller tension, and with some surprisingly deft emotional touches sprinkled throughout.
  • Fast and Furious presents: Hobbs and Shaw: Can you make a good blockbuster action movie based just on the ridiculous charisma of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, and the (played for laughs) over-the-top hyper-masculine chemistry between them? Yes. Yes, you can.

Podcasts:

  • ⭐⭐ Against the Rules by Michael Lewis: Michael Lewis is my favourite author of non-fiction. This podcast, about “the decline of the human referee in American life and what that’s doing to our idea of fairness” is just as entertaining and insightful as his books. He’s talking not just about sports referees, but “referees” in every sense of the word: regulators, judges, arbitrators – supposedly neutral parties of every kind. It’s a fascinating blend of psychology, politics, and justice both legal and social. Highly recommended.

Mixed Media, Sunday 24 March 2019

Films:

Dawn Wall movie poster
  • ⭐ Dawn Wall: gripping documentary (no pun intended) about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen’s 2015 ascent of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite.
  • Captain Marvel: there was no chance I wasn’t going to love this. I’m a big fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s reinvention of Captain Marvel in the early 2010s.
  • Velvet Buzzsaw: a darkly stylish satire of snobbery and pretentiousness in the Los Angeles art world, grafted onto a weak but nasty supernatural revenge story. Amusingly flamboyant performances from a host of big names don’t save it.
  • 💩 The Predator: this is a very bad film. Toothless dialogue, poorly choreographed action, daft plot, zero suspense.
  • Hotel Artemis: the trailer made it look more fun. Flat characters, very little interesting funny or snappy dialog, and the near future setting was entirely pointless. An hour and fifteen minutes of setup for a couple of mediocre action fight scenes. Even if there had been a decent payoff, there’s not enough here that would have made me care about it.

TV:

  • ⭐⭐ Sharp Objects: I watched all eight episodes of this on Saturday while I was under the weather with a cold. I only paused for getting food for myself and others. This was amazingly tense and subtle. Apart from the abrupt flashback cut-aways, the background is full of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpses of protagonist Camille Preaker’s subconscious leaking into the the world. It’s not actually a ghost story, but it’s almost presented as one.
  • Love, Death, and Robots: Netflix’s “adult” anthology series of short animated films is an impressive collection, but it is very…male. Out of eighteen episodes, only two are based on stories by women, which is not how the fantasy/horror/SF genres skew these days. Of the episodes where women take a leading role, most are still rooted in violence and gore. Helping Hand is a welcome exception, and I’m not just saying that because a friend of mine worked on it 🙂
  • The Escape Artist: tense legal thriller with David Tennant.
  • Broadchurch seasons 2 & 3: I wasn’t sure where the creators would go with this after season 1 wrapped up. Once I was well into season 2 it felt like a vital and necessary follow-up. Season 3 almost felt tacked-on: same characters, new crime! But they weave in the aftermath of the first two seasons as the B-story, and allow the familiar characters to find whatever measure of peace they’re going to get.
  • The Umbrella Academy: These character archetypes have all been done better elsewhere.
  • Secret City season 2: Not as a good as season 1, but still a high-quality political investigative thriller.

Books

  • Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal et al.: I ran a book club at work to read through this and discuss it over the course of a month and a half. It touches on the same themes of complexity in modern organizations that Atul Gawande talks about in The Checklist Manifesto. Very interesting.
  • The Wild Storm vol 3, by Warren Ellis and John Davis-Hunt: Hmmmm…I’d been enjoying how Ellis was evolving the conflict between the characters in the first two volumes, but in this volume he seems to take a pause from the story arc to introduce a bunch of new characters and then…kill them all? Or at least most of them. It didn’t feel as vital as the first two books.
  • Nova by Abnett & Lanning: The Complete Collection vol 1: Lovely art, but the storylines were getting a bit repetitive by the end of the book.

Categories
Mixed Media

Mixed Media, Sunday 10 February 2019

Films:

High Flying Bird movie poster
  • High Flying Bird: Soderbergh at his best, with a powerful script about race, wealth, sport and passion. Compelling and subtle.
  • How To Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World: lovely cap on the trilogy. The bad guy was kinda meh, and the comedy more subdued, but it makes up for it with gorgeous animation and a sweet, emotionally resonant story.
  • Thoroughbreds: Deadpan murder girls. Not a comedy, more of a Hitchcockian tension-building thriller. Anyone with a teenage daughter should be suitably wary.

Books:

  • ⭐⭐ Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker: potentially life-changing, as previously mentioned
  • 💩 Gathering Prey by John Sandford: dull. The last 200 pages are essentially a single shootout scene. The “Prey” books are at their best when protagonist Lucas Davenport is investigating and executing political manoeuvres. This has practically nothing of either. The only redeeming factor is that Davenport’s daughter Letty gets some good protagonist time. She needs her own spin-off series.
  • All-new Inhumans vol 1 (Global Outreach) and vol2 (Skyspears) by James Asmus, Charles Soule, André Araujo, et al: lovely art, but the characters failed to ignite my attention.

“TV”:

  • The Blacklist seasons 2,3,4,5: I kinda went on a binge during January, and finished the remaining seasons I could hoover up from Netflix. Feels like that was almost the only thing I did in my spare time in January. I continued to enjoy it, apart from the first part of season 5, in which they briefly tried to turn it into a weird buddy comedy heist show. There are some shockingly good episodes of TV in here, though, with “Requiem” in season 4 as my standout favourite (the one where we see how Mr. Kaplan became Mr. Kaplan.) They wrapped up a lot of plot threads at the end of season 5. Although there was a notional “cliffhanger” ending in which the next volume of secrets was teased, I’d be okay if I didn’t see any more. The show takes a lot of moral liberties for the sake of story, and the compromises the characters make don’t land with enough impact.
  • The Punisher season 2: follows the standard Netflix Marvel show template. Sincerely made but unremarkable. It may be superfluous to say that it’s “very violent”, but, well. I keep thinking I don’t need more shows like this in my life, and then I keep watching them.
  • The Good Place season 3: continues to be adorable, fast-paced, witty, and continues to drive the premise further and further.
  • Russian Doll: This is straight up amazing. Takes the time loop of Groundhog Day and twists it. You may think you know where this is going to go, but you’re wrong. (Or are you?) Hilariously funny — I laughed out loud while watching this through headphones and my iPhone on an airplane, with a stranger sitting next to me — and moving. Natasha Lyonne is a cranky whirlwind, and a sheer joy.

Podcasting:

  • The Dream season 1 was a fascinating deep dive into multi-level marketing, and the people who take part in it.
  • The most recent episode of Willa Paskin’s Decoder Ring, The Grifter has some nice parallels with Jason Scott’s recent instalment about Robert Hoquim. In it he refers to an old (2015) episode of Reply All, The Man In The FBI Hat. These three episodes make for a fascinating look at con artists, and why they make for such engaging stories.